And I doubted he would falter like I had.
Daniel turned from Caleb and stared at the fresh tag on my arm. I squeezed my eyes shut and turned my head. Next was Daniel's turn, and I had a feeling he was going to make it as painful as possible. My eyes burned as I pushed against the wal , wishing I could somehow disappear into it.
An hour came and went, and my body tensed as Daniel knelt down and pried my other arm from my chest. This was wrong, so wrong. There was no way to prepare for this, and when Eric placed his hand over my mouth, Daniel bit into my wrist.
I sagged against the wal , reeling after it was over. Like clockwork, Daniel and Eric took turns tagging me. Mom blabbed on and on about how we would eradicate the Council members, starting first with Lucian. We would then sit on the thrones, and even the gods would bow before us.
The tables would turn, she said, and the daimons would rule over not just the pure-bloods, but the mortal world, too.
"We'l have to take down the First, but when you're a daimon Apol yon you'l be stronger than him-better than him."
Mom was real y, absolutely nuts.
I learned about their draining. Maybe she was trying to prepare me for my new life? Pures kept them wired for days, halfs only for a few hours, and mortals, wel , they kil ed them for the fun of it. Too bad there wasn't a pure I could hand over to the daimons now. That may sound terrible, but my arms were covered in crescent-shaped bites, much like my old instructor had been scarred. And I'd pitied her-
The draining continued. Pieces of who I was disappeared with each tag. I no longer pressed away when Daniel dipped down or Eric leaned over. I didn't even scream. And the whole time, she stood by and watched it al . I was losing myself to this sick madness, and my soul turned dark and desperate.
Eventual y, she left to go check the roads. Not once did she feed off me. I supposed she'd bagged herself a pure earlier, but when she left, I immediately wanted her back.
With her gone, Daniel got bold, and though it made me want to vomit, I let him get close. Every so often, he would run the tips of his fingers over my arms, around the bite marks. At least it kept his attention off of Caleb.
"I can already feel it," murmured Eric.
I'd forgotten he was stil there. Even though he was tagging the hel out of me, I preferred him to Daniel. "Feel what?" My voice sounded sleepy.
"The aether, I'm buzzing from it. Almost like I could do anything." He reached over and poked one of the bites, causing me to wince. "Do you feel it leaving you? Going into me?"
Refusing to answer him, I lowered my head to my bent knees. He sounded high… and I felt sick-my soul felt sick.
By the time Daniel tipped my neck back, I was exhausted and near delirious from the pain.
Caleb hadn't moved in a while, and Eric didn't need to cover my mouth anymore. I only whimpered as the teeth pierced the skin at the base of my neck.
Eric made soothing noises as Daniel drained me, his thumb tracing the wild pounding of my pulse. "It'l be over soon. You'l see. Just a couple more tags, and it wil be over. A whole new world is waiting for you."
After Daniel was done, I slumped to the side. The room spun, tilted. I had a hard time focusing on what Eric was talking about.
"We're going to change the half-bloods first. They can't be spotted like us. They don't need elemental magic. Al over the world, we wil launch our attack. It wil be beautiful."
Eric smiled at the thought. "The Covenants wil be infiltrated… and then the Council."
It was a good enough plan, one that could easily become a scary reality. Eric didn't seem bothered by the lack of conversational input. He continued on, and I found it hard to keep my eyes open. Fear and anxiety had ridden me hard. I dozed off. For how long, I didn't know, but something jarred me awake.
Weary and confused, I lifted my head in time to see Daniel standing in front of me. Had it already been another hour? Was this it? I couldn't help but wonder if they were preparing for the last bite, the last drop of aether and the last of my soul.
"Daniel, it's not time."
"I don't care. You're getting more than I am. You're practical y glowing. Look at me!" Daniel scowled. "I don't look like you."
Eric wasn't glowing, but his skin had taken on a healthy infusion. He looked… like a normal pure-blood. Daniel, on the other hand, was stil sheet-white.
Eric shook his head. "She'l kil you."
Daniel dropped down in front of me and shoved a hand through my hair, wrenching my head back. "Not if she doesn't know. How would she? I just want one more."
"Don't… let him." My weak voice held a pleading edge, but if Eric was concerned with Daniel's fate, he sure didn't show it or try to stop him.
There was a spare spot on my neck stil bite-free. I silently begged that he wouldn't go for that. I don't know why I cared at this point, but dammit, I stil had some smidge of vanity left.
"She probably likes it," Daniel said. A stuttered heartbeat later, he sank his teeth into that one little spot and his lips moved against my skin. The pain shot through me, causing me to go rigid. His one hand tightened in my hair and his other got friendly, slipping over my shoulder and down further.
Out of everything that was happening, this- this was too much. With every ounce of strength I had in me, I lifted my hands and dug my nails into the sides of his face.
Daniel reared back, howling. My shirt ripped in the process, but the sound-the look on his face fil ed me with a sick sense of satisfaction. Deep and angry-looking welts formed on his face, beading with fresh blood.
Blindly, he lashed out and caught me in the eye, toppling me into Eric.
"Hel !" Eric leapt to his feet and I ate the floor.
I curled onto my side and into a fetal position. Above me, I felt Eric push Daniel back, yel ing in his face, but I wasn't listening. Something long and thin dug into my thigh. I slowly rol ed over, inching my fingers down until they closed over the object hidden in the seam of my pants.
The knife-the retractable one.
Suddenly, Eric lifted me up and straightened me so that I looked at him. Something wet and warm ran down the side of my face, dripping into my right eye. Blood. Not like I had much more I could afford to lose.
Over his shoulder, I saw that Caleb was awake. He stared at me, and I tried to send him a message, but as it was, Eric was doing a good job of blocking him. From the front of the house, we heard the door open, and the click of my mother's heels resonated through the cabin. Eric let go of me and backed clear across the room. My lips curved into a sad little smirk. He knew. I knew.
Mom was going to be pissed when she got a look at my face.
She stepped into the room, and her eyes narrowed on me. In a second, she was kneeling in front of me, tipping my head back. "What has happened here?"
Blood loss and exhaustion addled my thoughts. Moments went by as I stared at her. I couldn't remember where I was or how I got there. Al I wanted to do was press my face against her, for her to hold me and to tel me everything would be okay. She was my mother, and she would stop them. She had to, especial y something this vile, this horrendous. "Mom? Look… look at what they've done to me."
"Shh." She smoothed my hair back from my face.
"Please… please make him stop." I gripped her in a weak hug, wanting to climb into her arms, wanting her to hold me.
She didn't. As she turned away from me, I cried out and reached for her.
No. This-this thing in front of me wasn't my mother. My mother would never have turned her back on me. She would've held me, comforted me. I snapped out of it, blinking slowly.
"Who did this to her face?" Her voice was so cold, so deadly and so unlike Mom, but at the same time I heard the edge in her words. Recognizing her tone from the many times she'd yel ed at me for getting in trouble-it was the tone that happened right before she launched into a major bitch-fest. Eric and Daniel didn't know. They didn't know my mother like I did.
"Who do you think?" Eric sneered.
She pressed cool lips against my forehead, and I squeezed my eyes shut. She wasn't my Mom. "I gave you both explicit orders." She straightened, her eyes fal ing to Daniel.
Reality settled around me once more, and I came to my knees. I couldn't think about her anymore, couldn't see her as my mom. I made my decision. Screw fate. My eyes met Caleb's, and I nodded at Mom's back and mouthed the words, "Get ready." I could only hope he understood.
"That is simply unacceptable." That was the only warning she gave. She launched herself at Daniel, knocking him over Caleb. The two daimons crashed to the floor, swinging and tearing at one another.
I seized the opportunity. Scrambling to my feet, I grabbed for Caleb.
Thankful y, he got the message. He slid off the bed as Eric went after Daniel, too. I staggered to my feet just as Mom pul ed Daniel to his feet. He was a good foot tal er than her, but she threw him around the room like he was nothing. There was a moment when I couldn't move. Her strength was shocking, unnatural.
Dizzy and nauseous, I stumbled away from the room with Caleb in tow. We raced through the cabin and out the front door. Rain pounded on the roof of the deck, almost but not quite silencing the wet, sloppy crunch from inside the house. The sound propel ed both of us over the railing.
Forgetting how high the decks were, I hit the ground hard, fal ing to my knees.
My mother's voice pushed me to my feet. Glancing beside me, I saw Caleb do the same. We ran, half sliding and half fal ing down the muddy hil . Branches slapped me in the face, pul ed on my clothing and hair, but I kept running. Al that gym time paid off. My muscles pushed past the pain and the lack of blood.
We weren't fast enough. Caleb's startled yelp spun me around. My mom plucked him up from behind, tossing him sideways. Shock flickered over his face right before he slammed into a thick maple tree. I screamed, backtracking to where he'd fal en.
A barrier of flames went up, pushing me back. The fire destroyed everything in its path as it spread. Caleb rol ed to his side, barely escaping it. I stumbled backward as the world burned in red and violet colored flames. The rain did nothing to beat down the unnatural fire.
And there she stood-tal and straight, like a terrible goddess of death. Twice now, I'd failed to see that. In the al ey in Bald Head and moments earlier in the cabin, right after I'd realized I had a Covenant dagger in my pocket.
"Lexie, you promised me you wouldn't run." She sounded surprisingly calm.
Did I? My hand slipped into the side pocket. "I lied."
"I took care of Daniel. You won't have to worry about him." She edged closer. "Everything is going to be okay now. Lexie, you should sit down. You're bleeding al over the place."
I glanced down at myself. Running had gotten my blood pulsing. I could feel it trickling down my arms and neck. I was kind of surprised I had any left in me. Out of the corner of my eye, a shot of dark blue darted between the flames.